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Drifting Part Two

Area we got stuck

Before we get started, here’s some rules about canal boat conduct:

  • Always pass other boats on the right.
  • Always pass other boats at walking pace.
  • Do not intentionally ram other boats at top speed.

And while we’re at it, here are a few facts about the boats themselves:

  • They are long and narrow. Kind of ram-shaped.
  • They are bastard impossible to steer. Impossible!
  • They have absolutely NO BRAKES. NONE.
  • They hate you.
  • They want you to die screaming.

Putting all that together, you might gain an insight into the first few minutes and hours of our boat stewardship.

A more accurate accounting might go something like this:

*See a boat approaching in the opposite direction*

Canal view 5

They’re coming right for us! No, wait… We’re coming right for them!

Tony: They’re on the right! How can we pass them?

Roo: Tony, that’s the left. They’re on the left.

Tony: Then why are we steering towards them?

Roo: I dunno? Your Dad’s driving…

Tony: Dad! DAD! We need to go RIGHT!

Ian: *Smiles and waves*

Tony: SHIT! He can’t hear me!

Roo: He’s 19 metres away, and standing on top of a massive diesel engine. Of course he can’t hear you!

Tony: I’ve got to warn him! *Edges his way along tiny wooden ledge fastened to outside of boat* Dad! Go RIGHT!

Ian: I’m trying! Look! *Gestures at rudder, which he’s pushed so far over he’s almost hanging off the boat*

Tony: Shit! But we’re still going to—

*CRUNCH!*

Cue swearing…

Skipper in the distance

CAN YOU HEAR ME? No, of course you can’t!

Basically, what you need to know (should you be planning a canal-boating holiday) is this: you need to decide what direction to steer the boat in, in advance. Like, WAY in advance. Before you leave home, ideally.

The slowness of the boat, the pull of the current, and the fact that you’re fighting an entire canal full of water with a rudder the size of a tennis racquet, all combine to make the boat rather slow to respond. I tell you what though – it doesn’t seem slow when you’re heading straight for another boat, and the blissfully unaware holidaymakers sipping champagne on the back of it. Poor bastards never knew what hit ‘em…

Well, they did. Because they could still see us for the next fifteen minutes, as we made our agonisingly slow escape around the next bend.

Narrow Corner

Shit! Stuck AGAIN!

And while we’re on the subject of bends… What in the holy hell is the need to have so many of the buggers? It was like navigating a children’s’ drawing of a wiggly wiggly worm. The corners were so steep, it seemed impossible to get around them without getting stuck. It was like… trying to pilot a nineteen-metre-long turd around a series of increasingly-tighter u-bends.

I’m sorry. That was a shit analogy.

View canal 2

Another beautiful curve…

The first hour of our ‘relaxing’ boat journey was spent with Roo standing at the front of the Henley trying to holler directions back to Ian at the tiller, while Tony crabbed his way along the 10 centimetre-deep side ledges to convey the messages.

Roo on front

Roo took her job very seriously!

Tony on side

As did Tony…

Typically, by the time an obstacle had been spotted, it was already too late to try and avoid it, as the boat took an ice age to respond to the helm. The words, “Shit!’ and ‘Oops!’ and ‘Sorry!’ got rather a lot of usage.

And then came the bridges.

Lots, and lots of bridges.

canal view 2

Look! A beautiful bridge!

bridge 2

Jeez, that’s a bit narrow…

Bridge 1

Holy fu-

They were barely wider than the boat – by which I mean, it could get through without lubricant. But only just. And every one of them was on a tight bend, meaning any attempt at lining us up correctly resulted in us getting wedged in the curve. Threading the needle, we called it – only, the guy doing the threading couldn’t actually see the needle. And he was trying to thread it with ten tonnes of wood and steel that only obeyed his directions if they felt like it.

Tight squeeze through tunnel

Breathe in everyone!

By the time Ian surrendered the helm, he was exhausted – and Tony, taking over, looked terrified!

The hire company had told us we’d be able to make it to the nearest pub on the first evening. And we did! Thank God, because we were all in need of a drink. We’d bounced off boats, banks and bridges, but we seemed to be getting better at steering.

Now all we had to figure out was how to stop.

Because we’d arrived at the pub! Other boats lined the bank, making the canal even narrower. Bashing into these boats would be even worse than hitting ones sailing – because we’d be spending the night tied up next to them…

Canal view 4

You know you’re at the pub, because the canal gets even narrower…

So, here’s how we accomplished it:

Step 1 – Ian experiments with turning the tiller to bring the bow (front) close enough to the towpath so Tony can jump out.

Step 2 – Roo throws the bow rope to Tony who then hauls on it with all his might. Possibly because the boat weighs ten tonnes, this achieves precisely nothing.

Step 3 – Ian experiments with reverse to try and slow the boat down and pulling on the tiller to bring the stern (back) close to the towpath instead. This succeeds in stopping the boat, but causes the stern to drift all the way across the canal.

Step 4 – Roo waits until the bow is close enough so she can jump onto the towpath and then runs along it, as Carmel throws her the stern rope.

Step 5 – Other boaters on the towpath witness our complete cluelessness, and form teams to haul the boat into the bank, hand over hand.

Step 6 – The help evaporates back to the pub, leaving us staring blankly at the hooks and stakes which are to be used for securing the boat to the bank…

Tying boat

Solving a knotty problem.

But it was all good. After a bit of work with a sledgehammer and some truly creative knot-work, it was time to relax. Tony collapsed into a chair with a sigh of relief. “Mother of God, that’s hard work!” he exclaimed. There was a chorus of agreement all round. “I’m too old for this shit!” he added. Ian and Carmel exchanged long-suffering looks and went to make the tea.

Beautiful scenery and Tony

STILL TO COME… Abandon Ship???

Drifting – Part One

Side-of-boat

Four adults on a relaxing, 4-night canal boat cruise. What could possibly go wrong?

Unfortunately, when three of the adults are Slaters, things are bound to get interesting…

It’s always been a dream of ours to try living aboard a narrow boat, and drift along the English countryside on the canals, occasionally winding a lock up or down. It all sounds so relaxing…

WineOClock

This sums up what I had in mind…

So when Tony’s parents, Ian and Carmel, had some time off while we were in the UK, we decided to go for it. We booked an out-of-season, midweek, 4-night cruise with Anglo-Welsh Canal Boats, as it was the cheapest possible option: £750 between all of us.

None of us had ever been on a narrow boat before so we turned up at the wharf in Middle of Nowhere, Wales, with no idea what to expect. We were quite surprised to see eight boats tied up together under one bridge. They really did look narrow…

Carmel-Tony-and-Roo

Here’s trouble…

To get onto our little boat, the ‘Henley,’ we had to climb over and across the boat closer to the towpath… and we had to do that A LOT, as we started unpacking the cars and loading the boat. To be honest it was quite embarrassing the number of trips we made… the other boat was ready to be off long before we’d loaded everything, but with us being tied to them, it was hard luck, really.

Getting our stuff distributed around the Henley was pretty tricky, because the peculiar thing about narrow boats is this: they’re narrow. The Henley was an amazing 19 metres long – but only 2.2 metres wide! You had to climb across the first boat and take the short step to the ladder from Henley’s stern, descend 7 steps, squeeze around the first double bed, wait for the person coming towards you to duck into the toilet so you could carry on squeezing down past the second double bed, to where the front of the boat opened out into a small kitchen and sitting area. This living room was wide enough for two easy chairs, leaving just enough space to walk between them and get through the front door onto the bow.

Inside of boat

NARROW! And full of all our crap, which doesn’t help.

Once we had locked up the cars we received our official Boat Handling Instruction. Now, I don’t know if you’ve met the Slaters, but when they’re nervous they have a habit of making jokes to lighten the mood… so our course on how to prime and start the engine, use the tiller and keep the batteries charging was full of quips about how we were totally grown up enough to handle this, it couldn’t be that different to a car, and HELL NO, we would never sink the Henley… honest!

Our instructor had the option of taking a $1000 safety deposit off us, but must have been convinced we were mature enough to be careful. It might have helped that Tony mentioned having been a professional sailor before. And that he neglected to mention he’d ‘worked’ on precisely one yacht – and it sank.

The dude from the boat office promised to accompany us across our first obstacle to be sure we had the hang of things… and we were glad about that. Because our first obstacle was the longest, oldest and highest aqueduct in the world! The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct – no, don’t bother trying to pronounce it, because it’s impossible – is basically a giant tin bathtub that’s 307 meters long, standing on a series of massive stone arches that stretch 38 meters down into valley below.

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

The Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

“I bet I can hang off it!” Tony boasted. After a few seconds of stunned silence, this was met with a three-throated chorus of, “NO!”

We cast off our ropes and finally freed the other boat from the yard (sorry guys!). Ian took the helm and set us off on a slow cruise towards the start of the aqueduct. Amazingly, there were no other boats queuing to go over it.

Quick! Faster!

No.

Because the boat’s top speed was 4 miles an hour. We crawled towards the aqueduct at the same speed ice-caps recede, praying no-one would reach it from the other side first. The aqueduct is exactly as wide as a narrow boat, so it’s one-way, single-file. If a boat gets to it before you do, you’ve got to wait for it to cross the full span. If six boats reach the far end while the first is still crossing, and they follow it, you have to wait for every one of the buggers.

Across the Aqueduct

Fantastic views over Llangollen Valley

Ian and Carmel were at the stern (back) controlling the Henley, while Tony and I were miles away at the bow (front), taking pictures and videos of our extreme height above the valley. It felt like we were floating in mid-air. Hang on – we WERE floating in mid-air! Literally. No guardrails or barriers separated us from the drop – one step is all it would take for a quarter of a mile free-fall. Not a great place to be drunk! Halfway across the aqueduct, the yard bloke decided we knew enough. He hopped off onto the narrow towpath and strolled casually back towards the yard… We were on our own!

We felt like professionals as we chugged slowly along the aqueduct, smiling and waving at the tourists walking along the towpath. But then we reached the other side and all hell broke loose…

Tony Sticks Out

Tune in next weekend for Part 2 – Will we survive?

House Goals!

It’s strange, but the more we travel the more we actually aspire to own our own home! Maybe we are sick of packing everything we own up into boxes in my poor Dad’s spare room, or maybe we’ve just been to so many amazing properties. We are constantly collecting cool ideas for our future.

Dover Castle Inner

If only we could live in a castle forever… :)

And lets be honest, Dover castle is the pinnacle of permanent safe home ownership! The castle has stood for 800 years and counting! And the medieval earthworks began as an iron age hill fort before 1000 ad! We spent 6 hours exploring Dover castle and we’ve decided September is the perfect time of year because the weather is still warm and cloudy/sunny yet the crowds won’t bowl you over the turrets.

On the site of the castle on top of the tallest mound is an ancient Medieval Saxon church from 1000 AD which has been rebuilt in the 17th century, and believe it or not an actual Roman Lighthouse! It was built in AD 43 when the Romans invaded England and is one of the best surviving Roman Lighthouses in Europe.

The Saxon Church and Roman Lighthouse

The Saxon Church(100AD) and Roman Lighthouse(45AD)

We did the Dynamo tunnel tour, and as the film Dunkirk came out recently it was great timing to hear the real story of how the British forces managed to evacuate so many soldiers. Dover Castle is the largest castle in England and was totally unbombed by the German forces because Hitler put an embargo on damage as he wanted to own it for himself!  The castle had to prove itself in a war situation in 1216 when a few hundred men defended it from Prince Louis of France after King John reneged on Magna Carta.

In the late 18th century, during the Napoleonic Wars, Dover Castle’s defenses were upgraded again. More gun positions and platforms were added, and the roof of the keep was replaced with bricks so that heavy artillery could be used from the top of the keep. If you go into the Gallery inside the Great Tower (the Keep), you can stand above the King’s throne, but you can see how the roof was rebuilt in a curved brick design which does cover the top part of the gallery windows.

A series of tunnels were constructed as a garrison for troops during the Napoleonic Wars. About 2000 used the underground barracks, you can explore some in the Hospital and Dynamo tunnel tours, but most of them are closed off.

During World War II, the tunnels were used as air-raid shelters and then as a secret command center and military hospital. There are over three miles of tunnels, and many parts of the underground system have not yet been fully explored. WE would totally have offered to do some exploring on English Heritages behalf… don’t think they trusted Tony not to go into any dangerous areas! 🙂

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle

Tony doing the Superman at a deserted Dover Castle, September is not too crowded we highly recomend it!

To read more about the history of Dover castle please follow this link to the English Heritage page http://www.english-heritage.org.uk/visit/places/dover-castle/history-and-stories/history/

We definitely needed more than 4 hours to explore the castle complex fully, we took 6 hours because we stopped to explore lots of the gate houses and walked along the walls a lot. While wandering around the The Constables Gate area we discovered that you can rent rooms from English Heritage and stay in the castle walls overnight… wish we had known this earlier because although our self catering apartment in Dover was a great location for walking to town we would FAR rather have slept in a castle!

The Constables Gate

Looking inwards towards the Constables Gate, Check out the vines/trees growing up the walls!

As the entry fee for Dover Castle is around £20, we decided to join English Heritage for £40 each a year in the hope that this will make us visit more castles and historical buildings in our time in the UK. We really enjoyed ourselves and have had a great time in Dover, and we have aspirations to build our future home around a courtyard design.

This blog will feel quite different to Tony’s style of blogging, however I had to take over because he is down to the final edit of book 6 (Which will be called “Don’t you know who I am?”) We just have to finish the front cover and format it, so fingers crossed you can all be reading his prequel in a fortnights time!

Next week we will be living aboard a canal boat in Wales so check back on the blog to see what happens there (Hopefully we don’t sink into the depths of a welsh aqueduct!)

 

The Great Tower

This is the Great Tower as they call the Central Keep here in Dover, it was built by Henry the Second in the 1180s.

 

Roo walking towards castle

Lead me to safety!

Tony on the walls

Not a bad defensive wall to protect against zombie appocolypse…

The stained glass

The stained glass in the chapel inside the Great Tower.

Tony and Roo in front of castle

Can we please live here? 🙂

The Great Tower

The Great Tower (The Central Keep)

Yummm

Having a sneaky drink from a wine barrel… 🙂

Standing on the battlements

Standing on the battlements , that’s the ancient Roman Lighthouse and Saxon Church behind us! (And France even further in the distance.)

Royal Bedchamber

Inside the Royal bedchamber….Dont wake the King!!

The Royal Potty

The Royal Potty…

Down the Medieval Tunnels

Down the Medieval Tunnels, these were built in the 1200s!

Roo sitting on the wall

Roo sitting on the wall.

Modern weapons

The big guns from the 1939 defences!

Abandoned Mess Hall

This entire huge building was the Officers Mess Hall but is abandoned and sitting derelict because it would cost so much money for the English Heritage Trust to renovate it to safe use standards.

Looking back towards the castle

Looking back towards the castle from the carparking area.

Medieval Saxon Church

Medieval Saxon Church built in the 1200s. You can clearly see the Roman Lighthouse on the left, this was built in 45AD!

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Graffiti on the walls of the Great Tower.

Gorgeous Day

We had such a gorgeous day to explore Dover Castle!

The Port of Dover

Looking from the Signal Bunker towards to Port of Dover, you can see the white cliffs at the left side.

The Throne Room

Its good to be King… 🙂 Tony sitting on the throne in the Great Tower!

the view from the roof

The view from the roof of the Great Tower looking towards the Church and Roman Lighthouse, and beyond towards the shores of France!

Roo Takes Over! WARNING: Expect Rainbows…

I’ve been thinking for a while about how to do justice to this blog, when a) I’m incredibly busy writing the next book, and b) I’m incredibly lazy. Then an idea struck me – actually, it was Roo that struck me (though I still maintain that it didn’t hurt. It was the surprise that made me scream).

“Let ME do something!” she said. Which didn’t sound like a bad idea. And so, quicker than I could drop my trousers upload a photo, here we have it – our new, combined, shared blog! I know, I know. It looks exactly like the other one. But the point is, nothing has changed – Roo has been supplying me with the best photos for this blog for years, so now I’m making it official: Roo is my co-contributor, co-conspirator, and partner in (occasional) crime. She will now fill the gaps in my busy schedule by posting some of the best pictures from our travels around the world. I’ll continue to post overly-long, pointless rants about the random things that happen to us – and somewhere in the middle we’ll have… well. You. You poor sod! Here – have a biscuit.

So! She’s fabulous, she’s multi-talented – hell, she’s multi-coloured! A genius behind the lens, and not ‘arf bad in front of one; she’s the love of my life, and the only person I’ve ever known who can sing an entire song and not get a single lyric right. Without further ado, I give you my wife! (But you can’t keep her. So stop asking.)

Roo on snowy log

ROO: Well, we all know Tony is busy on his fifth book so I thought I’d sneak over here and have some input on the blog! Some of you may know me from my husband’s books ‘Kamikaze Kangaroos!’ and ‘Can I Kiss Her Yet?’. For the rest of you, I’ll introduce myself – and throw in a couple of my favourite traveling photos along the way 🙂

My real name is Krista but everyone knows me by my nickname of Roo, it makes sense since I am from Australia…

I started out as a shy 19 year-old travelling from my home in Western Australia allllllllll the way to Connecticut USA to be a riding instructor at an American Summer Camp. I was too scared to go actually, but my Mum pushed me to get out there and do something different. I will be eternally grateful to her for starting my love of travelling. I had a pretty tough time at camp… wild horses, sleeping in a tent for 3 months, coping with American teens… and the odd case of E-Coli poisoning! Luckily, I met my best friend Gillian there, as well as some other lifelong friends from all over the world. Gill and I travelled around the USA, Europe and Australia, and eventually we convinced her older brother to join us in Australia. And that, as they say, was the beginning of the end (just kidding!).

But yes, I may have fallen in love with my best friend’s older brother, sorry Gill! 🙂

Tony on Xian city walls at night

Here’s Tony – on Xi’an City Walls, in one of my first attempts at night-time photography! Kind of pleased with how it turned out 🙂

I can’t believe Tony and I have been travelling now for so long, these past 8 years of adventures have certainly tested us in so many ways. Luckily, we are scarily alike in some ways, and despite the stresses of travelling, getting lost and sick in strange countries and living in each other’s pockets, we are still happily married.

I’m not going to lie, travelling with someone as accident prone as Tony can be pretty nerve wracking! He seems oblivious to the fact that he is clumsy and instead believes himself to be a stealthy ninja – and that climbing up that pillar would be so very easy… I like to think that I am now the voice of reason and can (hopefully) rein in his most dangerous impulses!

Borneo Orangutan

Tony actually tried to hand-feed this guy with a mashed up banana he found on the floor! Does that count as dangerous?

I am a pretty colourful person. I have a hoarding instinct for brightly coloured or sparkly things, which is why my wardrobe almost entirely consists of an Australian brand of clothing called Black Milk. The crazy colourful clothes may at times clash with my rainbow hair, but I love it! I always try to be myself, which is great fun but can sometimes result in strange looks…

Traveling Pants beach

These leggings are Black Milk’s infamous Travelling pants – they’ve been around the world, passed on from person to person. I have them now, in Nova Scotia, Canada – who knows where they’ll end up next!

I have always loved photography. I saved for years to buy my first film camera, (with a TEN TIMES zoom lens – pretty good for the ‘90s!) Before we set off on our six-month trip around Asia I did loads of research and invested in a Nikon D5100, with a second-hand Tamron 18 – 270mm lens off eBay. I would love to say it was a good choice… but the lens came with a few issues and was so stiff it took a lot of elbow grease just to zoom in and out. I didn’t mind because I knew we would be hiking in the Borneo rainforests, and backpacking is rough on camera gear. But it was a great starter lens!

Saigon Cart in Rain

This shot of a street vendor pushing her cart through the rain in Saigon, Vietnam, is my first action panning shot – and my favourite picture with this lens!

After a little accident on Cat Ba Island in Vietnam, where Tony dumped me off the back of a motorbike and squished my lens, I was forced to upgrade to a NEW Tamron 18-270. Or rather, he was forced to 🙂

Icy lagoon

This shot of the Icebergs in Jokulsarlon Lagoon, Iceland proves the new lens was worth every penny!

I hope you’ve enjoyed these photos – they are some of my favourites from the last few years. I hope to sneak onto the blog every now and then to break up Tony’s written ramblings with some cool pictures. As I am still learning the art of photography, please feel free to discuss my pictures and give me any tips you may have; like traveling, this is a hobby I intend to carry on forever! You can get in touch with me via the comments below, or on the Contact Page. Thanks for having me 🙂 xxx

Girl with machete

Great photo to end on – possibly the craziest thing we saw in Asia. I never let Tony play with knives this big!